These are the Things I Think I Know: AL Edition
In previous seasons, I’ve liked to post — wherever I’m writing at the time — the “things I think I know.”
Basically, it’s just me riffing on how I think things will pan out across the MLB landscape in the year to come.
In this case, I’ll split it up between the American and National Leagues, and dive back in next week with the NL version of this and breakout players for each team.
In parentheses, I’ll predict the total of wins I expect that team to get. Will it add up to MLB going .500 overall? Probably not! But I’ll try to be careful and consistent all the same.
As an added bonus, I’ve listed the teams in the order I think they’ll finish in 2021.
Let’s talk to it:
Toronto Blue Jays (Fangraphs projection: 88 wins | BW projection: 92 wins)
I absolutely love this offense. Love, love, love. I certainly have questions about the pitching staff, but I have questions about each team in this division and when I compare Toronto to New York, I just have more trust in Toronto’s offense to stay healthy.
For this to happen, the Jays need to hit on at least two of the three guys who are in the middle of this rotation — Robbie Ray, Tanner Roark or Steven Matz — and they need Nate Pearson to at least be serviceable.
It’s possible I’m overrating the Toronto offense.
New York Yankees (Fangraphs projection: 95 wins | BW projection: 91 wins)
I just don’t have any faith in their rotation beyond Gerrit Cole. Reports on Corey Kluber have been mixed this spring. I think Jameson Taillon can turn a corner with the Yankees, but ideally it would be as a No. 4-5 starter. I really think letting Masahiro Tanaka walk was a miscalculation.
The bullpen should be fine, though I don’t quite understand moving Adam Ottavino the way they did. I think the offense will be very, very good — but Gary Sanchez is a huge pivot point for this team. If he returns to 2019 form — a huge if — and he can hang behind the plate defensively, they’ll beat Toronto.
I’m not sure of that, though.
Tampa Bay Rays (Fangraphs projection: 83 wins | BW projection: 84 wins)
It has to be so disheartening to be a fan of Oakland East. They were on the cusp of winning the World Series and then did a quasi-teardown which resulted in almost an entirely new rotation.
Each of their starters are interesting in their own right, but they’ll need a lot to go right to be any good past their No. 2 starter, Ryan Yarbrough.
The bullpen will again throw darts, but Nick Anderson being shelved does mess with their depth. They’ll again be pesky and as a result interesting, but unless Randy Arozarena and/or Austin Meadows carries this offense with an MVP-caliber season, I think they’re in third place, fighting for a playoff spot.
Boston Red Sox (Fangraphs projection: 85 wins | BW projection: 83 wins)
Boston is moving in the right direction but I’m just not with the pitching staff right now. They’ll score some runs as they sort out their rebuild outfield, but the right side of the infield is going to be a bit of a question mark to start the season and they’re just not quite deep enough to hang with the top of the division — yet.
Baltimore Orioles (Fangraphs projection: 67 wins | BW projection: 62 wins)
The O’s are inching ever closer but the rotation behind John Means is really, really tenuous. This reminds me of Detroit a couple years ago. Are they closer than the Tigers were then? Maybe. But it’s also a tougher division to reach the top in.
I, like everyone else, am rooting hard for Trey Mancini to get his MLB career back on track again after missing 2020, and I think Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays and Anthony Santander are all interesting. But with that said, it’s a team with a bunch of MLB journeymen and a few prospects trying to find their way. It might not be a “it’ll get worse before it gets better” situation, but it’s not far ahead of that.
Minnesota Twins (Fangraphs projection: 87 wins | BW projection: 94 wins)
Anyone who has heard me prattle on podcasts and radio shows over the last few weeks knows I had the Twins winning the division even before Eloy Jimenez went down.
The Twins are simply deeper than the Sox 1-26, and that’s going to matter a whole lot as the teams ramp back up to 162 games. We’ve seen the Twins ebb and flow in 2015 and 2017 with the subsequent years being tough(er), and I think the path to contention is a lot rockier than perhaps national types are giving credit for with the White Sox.
For the Twins, the offense — and frankly, defense — got much deeper with the addition of Andrelton Simmons, giving the team their best defensive left side since the late 1980s. Jorge Polanco should be more than capable at second base, and across the outfield, they should be able to catch just about everything they come in contact with — though left field might be a bit of an adventure (just as it was the last five years).
Depth wins here. I think the back end of the rotation and front end of the bullpen could be a little iffy, but I also have faith in the team to figure that out in fairly quick fashion. There’s a lot of talent that’ll be on the outside looking in of this roster to start the season, so I suspect this is going to be another very, very strong year at Target Field.
Chicago White Sox (Fangraphs projection: 84 wins | BW projection: 88 wins)
Even before the Jimenez injury, I couldn’t help but think the Sox would have been better off signing someone like Trevor May ($7.75 million in 2021) and Michael Brantley ($16 million) as opposed to Adam Eaton ($7 million) and Liam Hendriks ($11.3 million).
Now that is, of course, a gap in finances, but the commitments to May and Brantley were shorter so I think that helps cover up the differences in 2021 salaries. Nonetheless, it feels like there was a disconnect between the expected budget at the beginning of the offseason versus well into it, as again, it would have made sense to me to spread things out a bit more — or at least differently.
Lance Lynn is terrific, but if he really is a one-year option for the White Sox, they should have gone more all-in on their hole in the outfield and/or at DH. Now, they’re going to have to force-feed Andrew Vaughn left field in addition to simply hitting at this level — and he’s a veteran of just 29 games above Low-A. He’s polished and should be very good — but there’s risk here.
I just think the division goes through Minneapolis — as it already did the last two seasons.
Cleveland Indians (Fangraphs projection: 80 wins | BW projection: 84 wins)
Adding Eddie Rosario as the second Spiderman in the pointing meme with Franmil Reyes was a solid move for a team starved for outfield depth, but I just don’t think the team has enough proven hitting to jockey for anything more than third place.
And if the team has any sort of issues with health offensively, this could be a tragic season. I say tragic in the vein of 90 losses, which should never, ever happen with a starting staff this good.
I have questions about the bullpen, because they’ll throw the hell out of the ball but maybe not know where it’s going. Individually, they have some really intriguing players offensively who’ll need to find their own way. Maybe enough of them do and they’re the third horse in a three-horse race, but I’m just not convinced yet.
Kansas City Royals (Fangraphs projection: 77 wins | BW projection: 78 wins)
It’d be as sexy or trendy as it possibly could be to pick a team to finish third if someone wanted to say the Royals finish there, but I really think their offseason speaks to how much we’ve lowered expectations for rebuilding teams in recent seasons.
Kansas City added Mike Minor, Carlos Santana and Greg Holland to an emerging core that has some proven guys in Salvador Perez, Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier and some up-and-comers like Adalberto Mondesi (maybe closer to proven?), Brady Singer and Brad Keller. There’s more on the way (Bobby Witt Jr.) as well.
But again, how much of what we’ve seen rebuilding/tanking teams do in recent seasons is making our thinking murky? We’ve grown so accustomed to teams not trying that the Royals spending a projected $83 million and change has people talking. That’s still 19th in MLB — $36 million below league average and still beneath last season’s payroll ($34,812,194) when extrapolated out to 162 games ($93,992,923).
Detroit Tigers (Fangraphs projection: 72 wins | BW projection: 68 wins)
My adage for rebuilding teams is this: “If you can’t be good, at least be interesting.” It was derived from the 2013 Twins signing Kevin Correa and Mike Pelfrey — and in doing so, doing the exact opposite of what I was saying.
A rotation of Spencer Turnbull, Matthew Boyd, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Julio Teheran and/or Jose Urena should definitely be interesting. I think the bullpen has the right idea, but is still a couple of arms short.
Offensively, the Tigers made shrewd pickups across the board with Robbie Grossman, Renato Nunez, Wilson Ramos and bringing back Jonathan Schoop.
But with that said, it’s a top-heavy division and someone’s going to have to be the little brother. For now, it’s Detroit.
Oakland Athletics (Fangraphs projection: 83 wins | BW projection: 89 wins)
Oakland has to replace a lot of innings in the bullpen and considerably production at shortstop, but I think they can do it — and I also don’t think too highly of the rest of the division.
The rotation has so much potential to be fun, the bullpen will be funky with Jake Diekman, Sergio Romo and Co. and they have enough young talent to mix and match with some discarded veterans like Mitch Moreland and Elvis Andrus.
Los Angeles Angels (Fangraphs projection: 84 wins | BW projection: 85 wins)
The Angels can win the division if they can keep everyone’s elbows healthy. I’m a huge fan of Griffin Canning breaking out this season. I think the bullpen bridge to Raisel Iglesias is a bit rickety, but has potential.
Will Shohei Ohtani stay healthy? If he does, the Angels can easily win this division. The offense is legit, they’ll catch the ball and if Justin Upton and/or Dexter Fowler can give them anything, they’re probably a better team than many — including I — am giving them credit for.
Houston Astros (Fangraphs projection: 88 wins | BW projection: 82 wins)
I’m just out on the Astros this season. I think they’re rotation is pretty good but risky — and no longer has Justin Verlander — and their bullpen has just as many question marks as it did a year ago when they finished under .500.
Subtracting Springer is a huge deal, even if I’m the high man on Myles Straw, who could be a real pest in Houston’s lineup. They’ll need Yordan Alvarez to get and stay healthy to finish above .500 this year.
Seattle Mariners (Fangraphs projection: 74 wins | BW projection: 70 wins)
The Mariners are kind of funky but frankly just not that good. It’ll be nice to see Mitch Haniger back on the field, and I think Kyle Lewis has the potential to keep rising toward superstardom, but they’ll need more from J.P. Crawford and Evan White if they’re going to take a step forward and threaten for this division in the next year or two.
I’m also really big on Luis Torrens this season. He hit the crap out of the ball last year, and the M’s are going to have to bring Tom Murphy back slowly after serious leg issues.
Texas Rangers (Fangraphs projection: 71 wins | BW projection: 64 wins)
You can almost see the shadow of a plan offensively, but the Rangers have no pitching staff to speak of and very well might end up the worst team in the AL. I hope David Dahl re-discovers his health and rejuvenates his career, but ultimately I think they sell Joey Gallo for whatever they can get in July and wave the white flag on a massive rebuilding effort.
Honestly, they’re already there — but, I think, in denial.